Conservation & cooperation behind Sablayan's tourism
By Albert Balbutin
Sablayeños celebrate 116 years, with conservation taking an invisible role in its history.
The municipality of Sablayan in Occidental Mindoro celebrates unity in nature conservation during the “Dugoy Festival” held on its 116th founding anniversary last week.
“Dugoy” means pagkakaisa or unity, a term from the local Tao-buid people of Mindoro.
During the festivities, nature enthusiasts and environmental groups such as the Haribon Foundation took part in celebrating Sablayan’s conservation successes.
According to the foundation, conservation is key behind many tourism initiatives in Sablayan today. Haribon has been doing environmental programs in Mindoro for over 10 years.
“Ang Sablayan ay nag-invest sa isang Tourism Master Development Plan na pinondohan talaga ng local government. Ang prime concern nito ay environmental conservation over and above tourism kaya regulated ang destinations (The Sablayan municipality invested in a Tourism Master Development Plan that was funded by the government. The prime goal is environmental conservation over and above tourism so the tourist destinations are regulated), shared Sablayan’s Tourism Officer, Sylvia Salgado.
One of these attractions is the Apo Reef, the largest atoll reef in the country. It is also on the tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Tourists from around the world come to catch sight of its over 380 fish species and the Critically Endangered hawksbill turtles.
According to Haribon, conservation for the reef and other natural areas in Sablayan is almost just as old as the municipality itself.
While a National Parks Law was signed in 1932, it was not until 60 years later that problems in protected area management were addressed by combining biodiversity conservation and sustainable development. During that time, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Haribon Foundation and other stakeholders developed what would soon become the National Integrated Protected Areas (NIPAS) Act, which was signed in 1992.
In 1996, Apo Reef was proclaimed as a Protected Area under the NIPAS act. “Today, efforts to protect Apo Reef have not only translated in saving species and habitats, but in developing Sablayan town as well,” said Haribon Foundation.
“Malaking tulong yung Apo Reef para sa economic development ng Sablayan (The Apo Reef [as a tourist spot] boosts the economy of Sablayan),” added Salgado.
Also, the world’s remaining Mindoro Bleeding-heart pigeons can only be found in the forests of Mindoro – most of which are within the boundaries of Sablayan. Not too far is the better-known Tamaraw, which is also endemic to the island of Mindoro.
Sablayan is also home to largest tract of lowland forest in Mindoro – the Mt. Siburan Important Biodiversity Area (IBA). However, despite the installation of a penal farm that restricts access to the area, residents say that slash-and-burn and collection of firewood by local communities continue to threaten the forests.
At the Dugoy Festival, Haribon held a “Find our Feathered Friends” birding activity at Sablayan’s Agri-trade Fair wherein 200 people, mostly children, were introduced to native tree species, migratory birds seen in Mindoro and their importance.
Young Sablayeños searched the area for hidden paper Great Egrets (local name: Tagak) and got to know Mindoro’s unique species such as the Mindoro Tarictic or the Mindoro Bleeding-heart pigeon. Others took pictures with a Native Tree Photo booth, where children stood beside illustrated versions of local trees.
This campaign is part of a grander program aimed at strengthening communities in forest management under the Forest Governance Project or FoGoP by Haribon and BirdLife International, with financial support by the European Union.
About Haribon Foundation
Haribon Foundation for the Conservation of Natural Resources, Inc. is a membership organization committed to nature conservation through community empowerment and scientific excellence. Hatched in 1972, it is the pioneer environmental organization in the Philippines. Haribon’s natural and social scientists work with communities and people from all levels governance to promote biodiversity conservation.